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Does a Korean Treaty Make Sense Today?

Post # 198, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary

The Korean Conflict ended in 1953 with an Armistice Agreement. The participants, South and North Korea, China, and the United States have not signed a Treaty after almost 70 years.

As detailed in my book, The Golden Years of the Florida Legislature, '70's and '80's, I was assigned to I Corps on the DMZ in South Korea for one of my two year military service. The time frame was 1969-70 and the country was on high alert as a result of the seizure of the U.S. Pueblo Intelligence gathering vessel by North Korea one year earlier. The fact that U.S. Navy personnel were captured and tortured almost pushed America into a second major conflict in addition to Vietnam at that time.

The main duty of the U.S. military was to protect South Korea and the region from attacks by North Korea, China or maybe even Russia. In addition to the Pueblo, there were periodic fire fights and even some undetected North Korean and South Korean aircraft crossing the Demilitarized Zone of the 38th Parallel. It was a tense period for our country and this Floridian as well.

Fast forward to today. During the Trump Administration, Declaration of the 1953 Korean Conflict Treaty surfaced with serious interest from the parties--North and South Korea, China, the United States, and Russia. But each country has a seriously different angle in the issue today:

South Korea: President Moon Jae-in, a human rights attorney, is considered a moderate that would like to claim an end to the 1953 Korean Conflict. Although his country is directly affected, the other countries involved do not look to him for any hard and firm directives. President Moon surprised many by handling North Korea President Kim Jong Un in the 2020 Olympics in Korea. South Korean law dictates that a new President will be elected in March of 2022, so there is a short time for President Moon to secure all the parties to pass a binding treaty.

North Korea: President Kim Jong Un is well known as an opponent of the United States, who feels that his country will not be respected without nuclear weapons. He resents world powers in the United Nations saying he cannot have the arsenal, and is very deft at avoiding detection by their inspectors. Although he seemed to get along with South Korean President Moon at the Olympics, their relationship has cooled. Kim Jong Un does understand the leverage he has with undetected nuclear weapons--he gets food, money, military support and massive subsidies from Russia and feels he can force the United States and Europe help him with medical and technological help that is carefully monitored by the West. Only then does he say he would consider signing a treaty.

China: President Xi Jinping is the new 'elephant in the room' on the question of whether a Korean Treaty can be signed any time soon. He has quietly been expanding China's reach with stolen technology, military might, world economic leverage, medical advances and physical expansion of the Communist nation by dredging new land within the China Sea. Most students of the Far East are certain that China, and not Russia or the United States will largely control their region. But the West is deeply concerned with China's future plans for Hong Kong and Taiwan/the Republic of China. China has a direct interest in a Korean Treaty because they were a party to Korean Armistice Agreement after MacArthur's troops were chased from Manchuria by President Mao in 1953. It would appear that President Xi has not shown his hand on what he would need to sign the Treaty, especially with the 2022 mid term elections in America and Biden's potential re-election in 2024.

United States: President Joe Biden seems to be very interested in the Treaty, but not as much as the other affected countries. He is somewhat handicapped by all the attention President Trump gave the Treaty, but that was primarily because of Trump's interest in North Korean President Kim Jong Un. When Covid hit and Trump began losing his re-election to Biden, the public interest in Kim Jong Un and North Korea's nukes waned. In many ways, Biden would just as soon leave it dormant as an issue, so few think he will lead a discussion on the Treaty. President Biden knows what an important ally South Korea has become in terms of culture, commerce, and geographic location in the Middle East. So, if South Korean President Moon pushes Biden, the Treaty might be reconsidered in 2022. It might be a rare instance with the Republicans and Democrats could unite on an important world issue.

Russia: President Vladimir Putin, the cagey head of a new, stronger, and more powerful Communist Russia, is a major player in the Korean Treaty question. He obviously played President Trump and is now having difficulty getting anywhere as close to President Biden. Putin does have support among the Republicans in Congress, but that is only because of Trump's continuing influence. If he believes that the Treaty would help South Korea continue to grow economically and with independence, Putin would most surely object. But if his consideration was of benefit to either North Korea or China, he would have to give it serious consideration. He is determined to grow Russia and annexation or consolidation with Ukraine and Crimea with other Soviet states looks the most promising now. Putin is mindful of America withdrawing from China during the Korean Conflict, because of the threat of Russia joining the fight with the Communists. But he might consider making the Treaty a bargaining chip to aid him in growing the influence of Russia on the world stage.

Without a consensus among these stake holders, I don't look for the Korean Treaty to be signed in 2022.



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